Does OSR Create Imposter Syndrome?

I mean, nothing new here, right? The RPG industry isn’t the first to run into this particular dilemma. How many truly original plots are there for movies, TV shows, YouTube podcasts, video games, comic books, and cartoons can there possibly be? The RPG industry is just one of the fresher faces on the block compared to other print media, radio, movies and TV.


Man, I thought this was going to be a gaming article.

Looking at the many various websites that have converted the old D&D material into Dungeon Crawl Classics (DCC.) I was looking for old D&D modules from B/X and AD&D 1E that had been converted to DCC. I was also on my side quest for OA material that had been converted to Old School Rules. Turns out there’s a LOT of stuff out there. Like, a shockingly large amount out there.

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I’m just wondering what am I even doing here any more? OSR already felt a bit like we were reinventing the wheel. Now it’s more like I’m trying to reverse engineer a Lamborghini. It’s like I’m way in over my head AND it’s all been done before only better. I feel like I showed up late for the game, in the wrong season, for the wrong team, not even the same sport.

I get that the definition of “retro clone” means it has been done before.

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But, I was really digging DCC RPG anyway. I still do. I will probably even put some stuff up on the site here. But getting paid for it?

I feel like I’m barking up the wrong tree, in the dark, in the neighbor’s yard, three blocks over, and I’m a canary. Imposter syndrome? This is like a whole freaking plague of imposterism. Imposterishness? Imposteritis? Imposterior?

The idea was simple at first. Find a game I like. Find an OGL I can work with. Create material. Put material up for sale. Advertise and promote the material. Get paid, even if it’s a pittance in credit on DriveThruRPG. I mean, I can still do all of that, I guess.

I don’t remember the part where I discover new information, and then mentally trip, fall, stumble, and hit my head on the wall repeatedly.

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I mean, nothing new here, right? The RPG industry isn’t the first to run into this particular dilemma. How many truly original plots are there for movies, TV shows, YouTube podcasts, video games, comic books, and cartoons can there possibly be? The RPG industry is just one of the fresher faces on the block compared to other print media, radio, movies and TV.

There are probably over 100 different fantasy RPGs alone. Sci-Fi RPGs, Supers, Cyberpunk and Post Apocalyptic games are not far behind. I really feel sorry for folks operating in the Horror genre in any medium, much less RPGs. (Horror- literally competing with campfire stories in verbal tradition since man began creating stories. Yeesh.)

Retro RPGs are not entirely new, either. GURPS and Mythras are two examples of games born from much older roleplaying engines. GURPS isn’t new, either. The RPG industry is chock full of examples of people taking older games and repurposing/rebranding them to make money for themselves. D&D itself was an outgrowth of the miniatures wargaming hobby.

Disclaimer: I want to clarify this is not about a specific product, but a category of RPG products. OSR and OSRIC are a line of RPGs that closely mimic rules of original fantasy and other games from the 1970’s, 1980’s and early 1990’s. Dungeons & Dragons is the main focus of many of these games, but not the only one.

So, why am I here, exactly?

I’ll be in a better mood later.

The whole thing makes me wonder what do I have to offer? Like, at all? Should I go back to mopping floors or pumping coffee? (My back can’t really handle either, but sometimes I speculate. ) I’ve been at this for almost a year now. The self doubt has gone from creeping in to a flash flood. I just don’t know right now.

I’ve been posting daily to this blog in one form or another for almost six months solid. I’m not making a ton of money off of it. (Read: none whatsoever, much to the chagrin of my missus.)

Do I stop writing material for RPGs and about them? Do I just go back to running a game or two on the weekend for a few close friends and family members? It’s frustrating, it’s uncomfortable, and it likely means positive growth is coming in some way, shape or form.

Tonight, I’m upset. Tomorrow, I’ll meditate and be in a better mood. My inspiration will return. It’s just a small setback.

Back to the original question.

Why do we have OSR, anyway? I mean, I know a lot of well-meaning Old Grognards have a hard time accepting new editions of D&D. Okay. Back when reprints weren’t as commonly available, I can see that. But now? I own originals, reprints, pdf printouts, and digital copies of lots of old rulebooks. I also have a ton of bookmarks to sites that still rock the old game.

So, why is OSR a thing? It’s much the same idea as a throwback basketball jersey or reproduction Air Jordans. The idea is to take an old concept or product and alter it slightly and sell it for money. In RPG terms, same old rules, same old game, new title, art, and trade dress.

Where does the creative license come in?

Where’s the creative freedom in copying/rewriting the same old rules and slapping a new coat of paint on it? People like classic cars, too. I’d drive a rebuilt 1984 IROC-Z if I could. BUT… I wouldn’t be able to haul my family in it. In RPG terms, many of us run a current system/ruleset because it’s more widely available, popular and accessible to find a game.

If I walk into a FLGS on a Saturday and say, “Who wants to play in my 5E game?” I’m far more likely to get some takers than if I walk in and ask, “Who wants to play Tunnels & Trolls?” Many times, old fashioned bulletin boards or online groups/apps will help someone find a game for a specialized RPG such as Lancer. Likewise, it’s easy to walk into a club meeting full of Old Grognards and find a AD&D 1E game, Castles & Crusades, or White Box Swords & Wizardry, because those guys probably won’t need any explanation.

Why do I love DCC so darn much?

I chose that particular retro clone of D&D because it’s flexible, reminds me of multiple editions, and is a lot of fun to run. There’s nostalgia, cool dice, and lots of fun charts for everything/anything. It’s like Warhammer Fantasy and Rolemaster had a love child.

I love DCC because I can (re)create classes and concepts that I used to love. I can pump out new and different monsters or port them over from other games, D&D editions, etc. I own a sickening number of old monster books, especially from D&D 3rd Ed. They happen to work very well with DCC/MCC. So does Gamma World, strangely enough.

I’ll admit, I also have a strong sense of nostalgia and that’s present in DCC more than other games. I would still run Basic D&D per the Rules Cyclopedia if I didn’t have to come up with 5 copies of the game to distribute to my players. DCC is relatively cheap and easy to find, so is D&D 5E. Either works. One is easier to explain thanks to Critical Role.

The “Old Grognard Effect” does more damage to new players than Matt Mercer ever could.

Old Grognards of the world, OG roleplayers of the world, hear me please. There is a very ugly tendency amongst older gamers to exclude or act as gatekeepers to the hobby. The ugly act of discrimination affects the gaming table the same as anything else. Simply put- please treat people with kindness and understanding?

I hear a lot of stories about OGs gaming in public. Why do you go play at a game store with the same old group and the same old game if you’re not going to let other people join or even watch? Go hang out in the DM’s mom’s basement for five hours and continue to ignore the new players entirely.

Part of the appeal of D&D 5E is its current popularity. Please, let them learn about the “good old days” elsewhere after they’ve had a few sessions under their belts. Keeping new folx excluded from the hobby is ultimately self-destructive toward the hobby and industry. Please, don’t do it. Gatekeeping is unnecessary and kinda stupid.

The homebrew factor.

People have been hacking the rules and creating their own material for games since the dawn of D&D. B/X and AD&D 1E were a glorious and wonderful proving ground for funky new game mechanics, previously unseen or unheard-of monsters, and freakishly cool magic items. Some of us feel like D&D 5E is tied very heavily to the rules, even when they’re broken and dysfunctional.

We never needed a “Rule of cool” back then because all you ever needed was DM approval. It was the DM’s table, his rules. (I use male pronouns because unfortunately ladies were rare in the hobby back then.) Likewise, DMs could cook up some new, weird idea for a class, spell, magic item, or monster they could run it. If it flopped, it could be gone the next week or revised.

Heck, back then we didn’t have “Based on X Edition” mechanics. If someone built a game based on D&D, but set entirely in space? It was a “NEW” game. Most designers had the sense to rename the attributes, classes, abilities, magic and add spiffy rayguns. They wouldn’t rip the game off directly, but they could definitely steal concepts to make money. Sounds like what OSR games do. Hmmm….

Plenty more to discuss next time. Thanks for letting me rant. Feeling better now. Thanks for stopping by. I appreciate you.

Author: Jeff Craigmile

I'm a tabletop role-playing game writer and designer from Des Moines, Iowa always looking for more work. I'm the father of four boys and human to three cats.

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